Gardening can be challenging.
About a year and a half ago, I was attempting to plan out my very first, full-fledged garden. Key word being attempting.
In the condo we lived in before we purchased our house, I had a few blueberry plants from the blueberry farm I worked at planted in pots on our back patio, but I had never had a plot of dirt to treat like a blank canvas. Even growing up in the quiet Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon didn’t expose me to much gardening other than my grandmother’s tomato and rhubarb plants. When my husband and I purchased our first home at the end of 2015, a real fixer-upper on a big, flat property, I was ecstatic to finally have my piece of earth.
As with all of my romantic, grandiose plans, reality quickly set in when it came to the garden.
First, there’s the weeds. OH MY GAWD THE WEEDS. As soon as the sun started to appear more often, weeds overtook the small, 11 x 20 ft garden plot in the back yard. I actually threw my back out after a weekend of ripping out all the weeds and turning the soil by hand. Note to self: invest in rototiller.
Second, the soil needs love…a lot of it. It turns out, you can’t just buy baby plants, shove them in the dirt, and expect them to make a giant bounty of fresh foods. Soil is its own process. Depending on what kind of soil you have, it needs amendments, it needs nutrients, it needs you to break your damn back and your bank account to get it up to par. If the soil sucks, the plants will probably suck too.
Third, gardening is not an exact science. Not by a long shot. When I worked at the blueberry nursery, they DID have it down to an exact science but they are also the world’s largest blueberry nursery with a wealth of experience and information at their fingertips. When trying to research what would work well in my corner of the Earth, I couldn’t find exact information for anything. After talking to other gardeners, I realized this is because websites and garden centers don’t know how much sun or shade or what kind of soil each gardener has. Gardening is a lot of trial and error.
So, having said all that, I’m in throes of my second official gardening season. Many of the things I attempted to grow last year did not work or were not worth the trouble. During the off-season I regrouped and have a much better, more fruitful garden this year. I’m sure every year gardening will get better and better. Right? RIGHT??
Here’s what I’m growing this year:
Sugar Snap Peas – These delicious little treats are perfect for easy snacking and they’re super easy to grow. The biggest challenge with sugar snap peas was creating a sturdy trellis for them. Last year, I ran twine horizontally but that just made them want to grow horizontally. This year, I used inexpensive bamboo sticks but they weren’t quite tall enough and the peas clearly wanted to grow taller but production was good. Next year I’ll be running twine up seven or eight feet.
Tip: As the sugar snap peas start to wither, allow the last 5-7 pods to dry on the vine completely. Once they turn brown, pop out the seeds and save them for next year!
Green (and Purple) Beans – I had some garden space left after my planting frenzy so my gardening guru friend went through her massive seed bank and pulled some green and purple beans out for me! They’ve also been very low maintenance but are about to produce quite a bit! I forsee many dilly beans in our future.
Tip: Stagger the planting of green and purple beans so you ensure you aren’t overloaded and have a steady supply. Make sure to look for a bush variety so you don’t have to trellis (unless you want to).
Lettuce Leafy Greens – We eat a ridiculous amount of salads in our house, usually at least one a day in addition to the greens we stuff in our morning smoothies. I love that they regrow easily and will keep producing for you. When they start to get bitter, it’s time to remove them and replant with fresh starts.
Tip: After your lettuce is done for the season, plant a few kale plants in their place and enjoy fresh kale all winter long!
Peppers – There are an insane amount of peppers to grow out there so deciding which one just depends on how you’ll use it. We buy jalapeños and pepperoncinis the most so that’s what we decided to grow this year. The jalapeños are doing great but the pepperoncini has been a bit lackluster. Hopefully they catch up!
Tip: Let peppers stress out a little bit in order to increase spiciness. Stress the plants by allowing the soil to dry out completely in between watering.
Onions – I love growing onions because they are easy to grow and they last for a long time after they’ve been plucked from the soil. My biggest challenge with onions last year was keeping the weeds at bay. This year I decided to plant them in small holes of weed fabric which helped.
Tip: Gardens should continue to rotate so you aren’t planting the same thing in the same soil and depleting specific nutrients but this is especially true for onions. In fact, you don’t want to plant anything from the allium family (onion, garlic, shallots) in the same spot without at least a season in between.
Squash – Squash is great because it tends to have high yields. This year, I received a zucchini, crookneck, and yellow squash start from my friend and I have something to pick out of the garden almost every day! These plants are also very low maintenance and I usually only need to water them after they’ve been planted.
Tip: Pluck squash fruits as soon as they’re ready to receive a steady supply all summer.
Artichoke – They’re fun and pretty and delicious! They take a few seasons to get going so patience is key.
Tomatoes – Of course no garden would be complete without the lush deliciousness of fresh tomatoes. I love eating fresh tomatoes straight with a little bit of salt or in a sandwich. Trellising or using a cage is important for these plants whether homemade or these adorable painted cages.
This year, I’m growing Manitoba, Brandwine, Hillbilly, and these delicious little Sunburst tomatoes.
Tip: Trim up the bottom leaves and anything touching the ground to reduce the risk of disease.
Things I probably won’t grow again:
Broccoli and Cauliflower – These items are finicky and they’re cheap in the grocery store so there isn’t much benefit to growing them in the garden.
Potatoes – I planted potatoes last year and they died before I was able to get anything out of them. They did end up coming back at the end of summer and I got about as many out as I planted… The potatoes came back this year and they’re dying off again, I’ve gotten about one pound out so far but ultimately, I’m not impressed.
Corn – Corn is fun to grow because they grow quickly and you can really see the progress but I don’t tend to get very much out of them and farm fresh corn is pretty inexpensive at the farmer’s market.
Carrots – I totally and completely failed at growing carrots last year, our ground soil is too hard for them to thrive in. I’ll grow a few in pots when I have extra seeds but they are temperamental little buggers so I still end up buying most of them at the farmer’s market or grocery store.
What are you growing this year?